Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Not-So-Fair Brady Update

According to WGN-TV Chicago, Adrienne Curry (age 22, the first "America's Next Top Model") and Christopher Knight (age 47, Peter on "The Brady Bunch") were married in her hometown of Joliet, Illinois, sometime last weekend. I wrote about this match made in reality TV hell last autumn. Recently, the two lovebirds have returned to the boob tube with a second installment of their VH1 "My Fair Brady" show, which I'm sure will document the whole sordid event on film.

I saw a bit of it on Sunday. Curry still looks like a conniving golddigger. Knight still seems to be eyeing the nearest exit. Among other pre-wedding requests, Knight's asking for a pre-nup and a vasectomy (Do you know any guy who would ever volunteer for one of those? Me neither.)

I give the marriage one year, at best. Run, Pete, run!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Hello Dumbness, My Old Friend

I know it isn't time for my next scheduled post yet. But this story is just TOO good to pass up.

One of my all-time favorite books is The Graduate by Charles Webb. Yeah, the 1967 Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name was based on it. The movie was good, but the book was better. The story of young Benjamin Braddock, his summer fling with the sultry Mrs. Robinson and his subsequent romance with Mrs. Robinson's beautiful daughter, Elaine, is told over the course of less than 200 pages, and 90% of those pages are pure dialogue. Some of the sharpest, funniest dialogue, in fact, that you'll find in any 20th Century American novel. So much so, that the movie's screenwriters pasted much of said dialogue into their screenplay verbatim.

I enjoyed The Graduate enough to seek out a couple of Webb's other books. Love, Roger was okay; it's kind of like 'The Return of Ben Braddock'. I have but have never read The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker. Mean to, though. I like Webb's fiction because his protagonists are guys who are polar opposites of myself: horny, obsessed with beautiful women and often frustrated in their pursuit of those women, who are clearly their intellectual superiors. What dweebs!

The fact that Charles Webb's name was habitually omitted from lists of the sharpest writers of his era always puzzled me. I mean, Hollywood cared enough to film both The Graduate and The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (1970; film 1971). His most recent novel, New Cardiff (2002), was adapted into the film "Hope Springs" (2003), which starred Colin Firth and Minnie Driver. Why wasn't this author of such witty, literate dialogue raking in mad president$ writing screenplays? Why aren't grad students mining his books for thesis paper material? Why isn't Charlie Rose smooching up to him on PBS? I didn't understand it.

Then I came across an item online recently. Rather than water it all down here, you can read it for yourselves:,,2-2138646.html Another, earlier interview with Webb and Fred fills in some more blanks:

I was feeling sorry for this guy. As broke as I am, I was ready to send him a couple bucks in care of his most recent publisher. But the more I found out about him, the less sorry I felt.

If you're a bookworm like me, you've probably heard many stories about writers who toiled away in obscurity, for next to no money, only to be 'rediscovered' and revered. . .long after they died. Science fiction author Philip K. Dick (Minority Report, among others) and mystery novelist Jim Thompson (The Grifters, among others) are just two examples of this post-mortem literary phenomenon. Better late than never, sure. But the praise and the cash that are rolling in now ain't doing them any good.

But this wasn't Charles Webb's fate. He's had the opportunity to see his books (well, The Graduate, at least) achieve popular success. If his later titles weren't bestsellers, they were at least respectfully reviewed. If he isn't a critical darling, he has managed something of an 'underground' reputation as a fine writer. At last, it's not that Webb didn't have opportunities. He just didn't take them.

All right, there is another side you could argue. Of course, Webb's life is his to use as he pleases. Maybe he simply likes the type of life he's made for himself. On this level, at least, he can be admired for marching to the beat of his own drum. And under no circumstances would I ever try to kick a guy when he's down. His wife's illness is one reason he's down and I tip my hat to Webb for sticking by her through it all. Unlike many people in our 'victimist' society, Webb is blaming no one for his circumstances, other than himself.

But then there's that other nagging point: it doesn't have to be this way. You wonder why, at some juncture in time, Webb didn't pause and say to himself: "Charlie, you're a college-educated man and a skilled writer of some reknown. There's probably a magazine which would pay you well to grace its masthead with your name. You don't HAVE to be living in a nudist colony and working as a grocery shelf-stocker, you know." But evidently, Webb doesn't talk to himself.

Maybe too much time has passed between now and the halcyon years of the 1960's. Back then, perhaps Webb would've been applauded for selling the copyright of The Graduate to charity, for giving away his house in Massachussetts. Perhaps he's right; we possibly have become too materialistic. However, in addition to pondering that idea, chew also on the words of former über-hippie Mia Farrow, interviewed in the June 2006 issue of Esquire: "After the Maharishi, I started hitchhiking across India. I withdrew everything from my bank and just gave it all away. And then I thought, Well, how useless is this, 'cause now I'm poor, too. So I went back to work." I couldn't put it any clearer than that.

Charles Webb is a gifted writer. But he's also a blue-ribbon putz. I hope, at the ripe old age of 66, he learns what another 1960's celebrity, Jim Morrison, had figured out by age 27: "money does beat soul everytime."

Friday, May 12, 2006


I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why this time was different from any of the others.

I wasn’t planning on it. It was a Sunday morning. I had just gone out to pick up a Sunday newspaper and a bottle of Nestle’s Double-Chocolate Quik. For me, chocolate makes the frustrating business of job-hunting go smoother. I got what I wanted from the supermarket and I was heading back home. My route took me past the local mall. The place had just opened and was nearly deserted. I figured, what the hell?

It wasn’t the best of circumstances. I hadn’t shaved for about three days. I was wearing a ratty pair of jeans and this crappy Bears sweatshirt I’ve had since I was 16. Yes, it still fits me. It’s made of some kind of wonder-fabric which has just sort of expanded as I have. I hadn’t bothered to even comb my hair, and my Dennis the Menace cowlick was flying at full-staff. But if I did it today, I told myself, I wouldn’t have to make another trip back there next week. So I went in and filled out an application at “Spendorama” Department Store.

Damned if they didn’t actually call back two days later. No big deal. I’ve gotten a couple of those recently—all for shitjobs the employers were desperate to fill.

The week before, for example. A caffeine-amped manager at a bargain basement appliance store dangled a commission-only sales job in front of my nose like it was a sirloin and I was a hungry wolf. For those not in the know, commission-only means the salesdweeb does not get an hourly salary, only a percentage of each sale he/she makes. No sale, no paycheck. You can tell when salespeople in a store are working on commission, because they grin like crackheads and ambush customers one foot past the door. I worked commission-only once, briefly, for a long-gone electronics chain. Never again. The turnover is high, the competition is cutthroat and it’s damn-near impossible to make a living wage, unless you plan on working 7 days a week. I let the guy blither on about extended warranties and the like for about 20 minutes before I said no. He went catatonic, all google-eyed and slack-jawed. Poor bastard; Red Bull overload.

Anyway, I went to my interview at Spendorama Department Store. This is an actual department store, similar to Macy’s or the soon-to-be-departed Marshall Field’s. At least it wasn’t another –Mart. Talked to Hiring Guy, a polite gentleman in a shirt and tie. He said he needed a salesman in the men’s clothing department. The job was evenings and weekends, part-time, with “an opportunity to go full-time as we approach our busier Fall season,” he said. It would pay an hourly wage, an actual-sorta-living wage, at least for part-time. It wasn’t the lowest sum I’d been quoted.

So then, Hiring Guy and I did the typical employer-applicant dance I’ve come to know so well. “Describe your favorite customer service experience.” “What’s your worst customer service experience?” “Are you a team player or a lone wolf?” I’ve answered these questions so many times, I could do so in my sleep. Garbage in, garbage out; he gave me the same polite nods and “uh-huh’s” I’ve heard just as often. Then Hiring Guy excused himself and left the office, promising to return directly. Well, I thought, anticipating the brush-off, at least I’d be home in time to catch “Judge Judy”.

I sat alone in the office, which was cluttered with old sale signs, sundry displays and stacks of credit card applications. It was dim; the single florescent panel above barely lit the room. The only sound was the steady hum of air from a ceiling vent. Quite comfortable, though. I sat back, closed my eyes and eased into a sex fantasy about my latest dream girl, Karen Cliché. She’s the female star of “Young Blades”, a Three Musketeers rip-off TV show that’s only worth watching for her. Such lips, such eyes! Such skill in handling the sword! Calling Doctor Freud. . .

“Okay, John,” said the returning Hiring Guy, startling me out of an R-rated revelry. He sat back down behind his desk, scribbled something on a form. Then he did something which scared the hell out of me. He stuck out his hand and said: “The job is yours. Welcome to Spendorama. Can you start next week?”

Goddamn. Someone is going to actually PAY me to work. How did that happen?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Tune In Fluff Radio Review

If you're looking for a podcast that features great modern music and comedy, look no further than "Fluff Radio Review". Hosted by Colleen AF Venable (PHOTO, right) and Annie Saunders (PHOTO, left), two brilliantly witty (and just plain brilliant) women out of Brooklyn, NY, this program will bring you so up to speed on bands/performers you should know about, even your 13-year old nephew won't think you're a dork anymore!

As for the comedy? The songs, skits and patter performed by Annie and Colleen are funnier than anyone on "Saturday Night Live" in at least 10 years. Tune in and discover the pleasures to be found in Xmas in New York, tri-flavored popcorn and 'kazooing,' among other delights. When these ladies are rich and famous someday, you can say you knew of them way back when.

And if you do drop by "Fluff Radio Review," tell 'em John Left sent you. Not that this would mean anything to anyone. It would just be a nice gesture if you did.

(Yes, the persons in the picture above are Annie and Colleen. The false mustaches are a recurring comic theme they'll explain.)